Food service team members (from left) Tony Jones, Sue DiPiazza, Wanda Bradley and Wayne Santiago begin work before dawn to prepare and deliver meals to senior and day care centers across Monroe County.

Food service team members (from left) Tony Jones, Sue DiPiazza, Wanda Bradley and Wayne Santiago begin work before dawn to prepare and deliver meals to senior and day care centers across Monroe County.

The Food Service Department at Goodwill of the Finger Lakes knows a thing or two about doing good — more specifically, making good. Five days a week, the Food Service team cooks up approximately 600 to 800 meals to be delivered across Monroe County to senior centers and day cares. 

Do Good

For many people, satisfying hunger pangs is relatively easy. But for many of Monroe County’s most vulnerable populations — children and seniors — access to something as fundamental as a reliable, nutritious meal is a barrier that must be overcome every day.

Senior Centers

“For some seniors, this may be their only hot meal of the day,” says Sue DiPiazza, a customer service representative with the Food Service Department at Goodwill of the Finger Lakes.

Financial need is not the only barrier seniors face in getting a hot, nutritious meal. Many seniors are eligible for food stamps but don’t have available transportation to get to the grocery store. And even if they can get to the store, they might need extra assistance once inside. Others are physically unable to cook their own meals. Fortunately, the senior center meals prepared by the Food Service Department are available to anyone 60 years or older.

“No one will be refused a meal,” DiPiazza says. “We have a contribution box and ask for a suggested contribution of $3, but it’s all anonymous.”

Program funding for senior center meals is not limited to contributions. Funding originates at the federal level with the Older Americans Act and is distributed locally through Monroe County’s Office of the Aging. The County of Monroe has contracted Goodwill of the Finger Lakes for about 36 years.

Another healthy component to the meals cannot be measured in nutrients and calories: the social value. Senior center activities such as cards, bingo games, excursions and, of course, a meal shared among friends, all contribute to improved mental health, wellness and happiness.

Day Care Centers

Young children are another vulnerable population at risk of not getting the right daily nutrition. Goodwill of the Finger Lakes helps 2- to 12-year-old children in some of Monroe County’s poorest neighborhoods.

DiPiazza is emphatic. “I volunteer at a women’s shelter and I’ve seen first-hand the importance in food preparation for these children,” she says. “Sometimes these kids really depend on these meals for their nutrition.”

Food education is another benefit. DiPiazza describes how some children in the more impoverished areas are not familiar with whole foods. For example, they may only know chicken in the form of nuggets, but not as a drumstick. Hopefully, this exposure and education on what it means to eat healthy will be something they’ll carry with them throughout life.


What exactly, does the team at the Food Service department cook up?

“We prepare a lot from scratch,” DiPiazza says.

Vegetables are fresh or frozen, not canned. Fresh, seasonal fruits are used whenever possible. If canned fruits are used they are packed in their own juices, not syrup. For seniors, meals are designed to meet one-third of the recommended daily allowance. This translates to one cup of vegetables, a half-cup of fruit, four ounces of protein and whole grain breads. The occasional cookie or pie for dessert are rare treats. Children’s meals are based on the seniors’ menu but in smaller portions and follow the school nutrition program set by New York State.

The food service team starts work at 4:30 a.m. to finish all the meals and have them delivered by noon. Those hours may make you cringe but DiPiazza loves it. By 1:45 p.m. team members are wrapping up a full workday.

“It’s great,” DiPiazza says. “I’ve been with the Food Service at Goodwill Finger Lakes for 14 years and I’m actually the youngster. We have longevity in the department, operate like a well-oiled machine and are extremely inspired by the good that we do.”

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